As a polio survivor for 63 years who has needed crutches, leg braces, a wheelchair and an Amigo to get around, I was taught searing lessons about independence since the age of four.
My 1950’s rehabilitation professionals convinced my family and me that I, as a young person who had a disability, was not sick, or defective. In fact, my mother always told me I could do anything anybody else could do – just a bit differently. But as I learned self-determination and self-respect, I was also taught not to be a burden on others.
Wow, now that’s a loaded statement. One that needs unraveling-fast! A burden? What’s that? What does this concept called independence really mean to us today? Is it the flip side of dependence? If independent means not being a burden on people, does that mean we should have less self-respect as we demurely become a dependent thorn in the side of others when we do reach out for help?
We recently celebrated the Fourth of July in America. Our greatest document, other than the Constitution, is the Declaration of Independence. For people who are growing older with the late effects of polio or simply growing older with the late effects of life, I say we need to draw up a more evolved document: The Declaration of Interdependence!
Not independence. Not dependence. But interdependence: “the quality of being mutually reliant on each other.”
Trying to be that old kind of independent can be not only exhausting, but darn lonely. Working with a friend to plan a class reunion or a church event not only takes the load off me, but is a lot more fun. Who wants to do stuff alone all the time? That’s too independent! Trying to be strong and self-reliant can also be dangerous.
While painting the fence or planting a garden, I could easily fall down, and then pop a bicep trying to push myself up from the ground. I say find a 20-year-old to do it. Then give him some of your best home baked cookies, some money and your full attention as he shares his life plans and interests. We have both gained from the experience.
If we need more, we need to ask for more. No guilt. We still have much to contribute now; maybe even more, but in different arenas. We don’t need to prove ourselves in the mainstream workplace and keep up with our non-disabled competitors. We can make new disability-related adaptations and be content with who we are really becoming.
We each simply need to figure out how to adopt our own personal Declaration of Interdependence.
Thank you to Sunny Roller for guest posting! Learn more about her by visiting her blog or click here to read her full article on interdependence.
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